The Human Being Thru Changing Lens: MIFF Winners Talk Film, Art, and More

Earlier this year, World Youth Alliance awarded the winners of the 5th Manhattan International Film Festival (MIFF) in New York City. As an annual cultural initiative, the MIFF seeks to recognize young directors, under 31 years old, who show great potential in creating films that explore the human condition.


After receiving hundreds of submissions, Álvaro Hernández’s Gotta Serve Somebody, Lin Po-Yu’s Breaktime, Skylar Burke’s Frenemy, and Anya Nicole Isabel Zulueta’s My 2014 Neighbor emerged with merits of recognition for their visual narratives. If you’re curious about what goes on in the minds of these artists, read on to learn more about our MIFF awardees:

Anya Zulueta, 1st Place MIFF 2017

“You enter a cinema with the possibility of feeling a stranger’s feelings and dreaming their dreams….Art has the power to break down information and make it relatable. It has the power to incite thought and discourse and even break complacency,” muses Anya as she contemplates on the role of art in today’s society. Anya’s passion for storytelling began with her inclination towards musical theater and writing. Although she already had the creative interest in making different worlds and realities believable, it wasn’t until she was given a class assignment of shooting a video did she shift from taking multimedia studies to digital filmmaking. Currently, Anya works as a full-time copywriter at an advertising agency when she’s not busy making films.

Anya’s film, My 2014 Neighbor, is about two 6 year old next-door neighbors who form a unique friendship by communicating through their windows. In a time where friendships are formed through monitors or phone conversations, the film explores the issue of social dynamics through a “screen” and whether it ultimately makes interactions mean any less. In making the film, Anya was inspired by her younger brother and his best friend’s friendship. She observed the way people would form and sustain their relationships in the manner her brother and his best friend would play games and voice chat every single day for over a year without meeting face to face. “It made me think that maybe, missing out on real life human interaction could also mean missing out on the most meaningful core of a person.”

When asked for words of advice to aspiring filmmakers, Anya shared these nuggets of wisdom, “I’d be lying if I said that I myself do not feel limited by circumstance so instead I’m going to quote Francis Ford Coppola for this; “The things that you get fired for when you are young are the same things that you get lifetime achievements for when you’re old.” When you’re given a chance to make a film, fall in love with whatever it is you’re making and don’t be afraid to make all the mistakes to give it everything you have.”

Álvaro Hernández, 4th Place MIFF 2017

Hailing from Madrid, Spain, Álvaro’s fascination with film began at an early age. “It was the most fun film school imaginable!,” Álvaro exclaims as he recounts how he made his first films at the age of ten with his brothers and sisters as his cast and crew. After making shorts throughout his teenage years, he then went on to pursue Media Studies in the University of Navarre. Currently, Álvaro is based in México where he specializes in food-centered web content with his wife.

“I like the kind of art that invites you to consider universal truths. Indeed, art has the power to establish connections between very distinct communities,” shares Álvaro when asked to give his perspective on art. This belief is evident in his film “Gotta Serve Somebody” which followed the story of Gabriel Lopez, a LA native who transitioned from being a gang member to a rehabilitated member of society. Gabriel’s story highlights the need to steer our loyalty to a worthy cause, be that the community, family, or God. In describing loyalty as a strong tie to something or someone, Álvaro explains that loyalty wasn’t a virtue onto itself. “Gabriel was extremely loyal to his violent gang for years, which only got him in trouble. ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ shows his efforts to straighten his life and serve his family with honest, hard work. I’m happy to say that Gabriel has continued to thrive since the making of our short documentary together.” The phenomenon of gangs had always fascinated Álvaro. More so when he learned about Homeboy Industries, an organization ran by a Jesuit priest which rehabilitates convicted gang members by teaching them skills in the service industry. It was there that he met Gabriel. “In him, I saw a man who regretted having neglected his real family for so long.  His story was perfect for the type of piece I had in mind.”

In talking about art’s impact in society, this filmmaker believes that art should always aspire to elevate the human spirit. According to him, “Much of the art that we see today is mere shock value.  I think true art definitely connects you to a dimension bigger than oneself.” His main advice for filmmakers who may feel limited by their current circumstances would be to find a story that fits their current means and budget, and escalate from there. “I would tell them that the limits exist mostly in one’s mind…. In my experience, it’s one’s own voice that takes more work to tap into. It really comes down to whether you have something to say or not.”

If you loved reading about our MIFF winners, you might get the chance to have your films featured just like them. The call for submissions for the 6th Manhattan International Film Festival is still ongoing! Submit your entry before the deadline on September 30, 2017.